Using Personal Letters as a Marketing Tool

Feb 25, 2008

There’s no question in my mind that using personal letters is one of the best-kept marketing secrets for architects, engineers, and environmental consultants. Newsletters are overused. Every firm has one. And if the firm is too cheap to spring for printing, they simply send out the newsletter electronically. I find them very hard to get through, especially those with a lot of graphics and photos. And, of course, the experience isn’t helped by getting some sort of error message for not having the right version of Adobe! The good old-fashioned personal letter can be incredibly effective. Written on paper, put in a regular envelope (not a window envelope) with a typewritten address, and hand-signed, it is rarely discarded by the one it’s addressed to without at least a cursory overview to make sure it’s not advertising. But by the time the receiver reads enough of the letter to be sure it isn’t advertising, guess what? They read your advertising! One of the keys to writing these letters is to write like you speak. Most people, particularly those in our business, feel compelled to take on some sort of overly-formal style when writing a letter. They drop all their contractions and sentence fragments, and use four-syllable words where two-syllable words should be. Another thing I see everywhere these days is apostrophes on plurals, i.e., plural’s. What is that about? The end result is something that would get a “B” in freshman Comp 101 (not an “A” because of the apostrophes on plurals), and is difficult to read and decipher its real message. Tell a story. Write about what makes you different. Give some advice. Write about how an unnamed client did something wrong and how you helped them. Write about how your hobbies relate to what you do for clients now. Write about something you learned that could be helpful to someone else. Be self-effacing. Don’t brag. And avoid using clichés such as “cost-effective” or “solutions-driven.” End with an e-mail or direct-dial number. Each of your principals, at least each of your primary seller-doers, should be periodically writing letters. Once a month— even three or four times a year— is a good frequency. And if you can’t do your own writing, your marketing department may be able to help you or there are people out there for hire. The important thing is to do it— and keep doing it. And have a list large enough to have a probability of getting a decent response. I remember once I ghostwrote a letter for an architect friend/client of mine. He sent out about a thousand of them, and got 12 or 13 requests to meet as well as a couple real projects. That’s pretty effective marketing if you ask me! Originally published 2/25/2008

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